ID / product design is now a commodity.

Recently I have come across two, I think, relatively new product / industrial consultancies who are offering their services at fixed price points (one in the states, one here in the UK).

This is something one of my regular customers has asked for but I was unwilling, mainly because projects are always variable in size. More often than not one of us was going to feel short changed … and I knew it was usually going to be me.

The fair pay issue aside - is this a going to be a growing trend? Are fixed prices going to be an effective method of enticing product producing companies to invest in product / industrial design?

Do companies need to feel they are getting something ‘off-the-shelf’ to feel confident investing money in a service they perhaps do not really understand (as so many companies do not)?

Is an upfront fixed quote not enough?

I think I know which ones you are talking about. I also ran across one located in Lawrence Kansas offering new product design for $5,000 in 3 weeks (initiation to tooling release) for each product. Actually had an on-line project initiation portal, describe product in 1000 or less characters, attach rough sketch or CAD file of internal components and/or desired envelope size and appearance.

I view this as you get what you pay for. Their designers are probably working from a cooperative vacuum, meaning they have no cooperative or collaborative effort between marketing, branding, or manufacturing specialist. They are most likely also conducting limited to no competitive analysis, or consumer research/demo-psychographics. And most of all simply providing product styling services, which are viewed by corporations as a commodity. They are simply providing pretty pictures that may or may not be entirely manufactuable and consumer pleasing when produced.
Low cost = low risk for the corporation. Good old Harvard Business logic.

Good design will not become a commodity. I’m sure it must be frustrating to have someone compare your services to some company that is doing a stripped down “paint by numbers” approach to styling, but what designers have to do when faced with that situation is prove to them the value of true design. That’s when you need to tell them what you bring to the table by including user research, competitive analysis, marketing reports, and manufacturing data, etc. If they still don’t see the reason for investing the extra time and money, then oh well. Sometimes all they need is the kind of generic styling application that can be done in a commodity type of manner to a commodity type of product. Anyone can add an “egronomic rubber grip” to a spatula, or throw some fillets on a volt meter.

This is terrible, and the wrong way to go about most service businesses, unless you’re a lawyer or an accountant. While it’s sad to note the “off-the-shelf” approach to selling design, it is not wholly unexpected in the cuthroat design consulting business, it was bound to happen eventually.

I don’t think it can overtake the industry as a whole, save for the lower end of the business where, for all intents and purposes, design was always a cheap disposable commodity, traded on cost alone and obviously worth just that. Lowest common-denominator approach - lots of businesses have to deal with it, some handle it well by selling their worth well to the right clientele, others never understand what hit them until it’s too late.

No need to satisfy everyone in life to make it, only a majority.

Darwin had it right.

For proof of this you only need to look at the crap available at

In theory, this was a great idea, but in practice it’s all about finding the lowest bidder. That’s not design, that’s production.

deja vu topic?